Friday, September 19, 2008

Anekantavada: J goes in for Jainism. Plus: The De-apotheosogenesis of the J Continuum!

Today's featured Wikipedia article is Anekantavada, the Jainist concept that, Wikipedia says,
"refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth. Jains contrast all attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah, which can be illustrated through the maxim of the "Blind Men and an Elephant"... This principle is more formally stated by observing that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence, so they cannot be completely grasped in all aspects and manifestations by finite human perception. According to the Jains, only the Kevalins—the omniscient beings—can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; others are only capable of partial knowledge.[4] Consequently, no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth."a
While J is not going in for the Kevalins -- that is, I'm not suddenly a Jainist rather than an agnostic atheist who thinks it might be nice if some mystical/spiritual elements were real, but mostly unconcerned from day to day if they are since philosophical materialism seems to work well for explaining things a healthy bit of the time -- Anekantavada seems to express perfectly the ideas behind why I started this blog. I have ideas. Many of them. Too many perhaps. And I want share them, and develop them, and get to know others' ideas, and talk and argue and laugh about it all... very few things in life make me happier than exchanging ideas and learning about things together with people in convivial environs. I'm not willing to wholly give up the name of the Continuum yet; the name first occured to me as an undergrad when I first learned about HTML and made my own homepage. For those that didn't get it, it's a not-overly-wry reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation, after the nigh-omnipotent Q Continuum. Without getting too nerdy, the Qs sort of claimed to be omnipotent and omniscient, but mainly one of them in particular spent a lot of time creating contrived and annoying problems for the Star Trek crew such that interesting things could happen to people that nominally no longer had internal strife or disagreements (Gene Rodenberry's dream for future humans -- a nice idea, but makes for somewhat stilted plots). So I liked the idea of taking these Godly Beings and implying that J & J Friends were a special group of beings somewhat rather lower on all-knowing-all-powerful scale (the "de-apotheosis" referred to in the title -- the UnGodding of the Q) but still pretty awesome (and sarcastic and mischevious, a la John De Lancie's portrayal of Q).

Anyway, that oh-so-geekly origin is probably actually a great reason to completely change the name, now that everyone knows the too-clever-by-not-even-a-half joke behind it, but still, I like it. I also like the serendipitous find of Anekantavada. So, I guess for the time being, I'll keep both. If my literally threes of readers uprise, I'll deal with it then.


Daktari said...

..."very few things in life make me happier than exchanging ideas and learning about things together with people in convivial environs."

Ooooh, me, too. So much so that I sometimes consider them a form of foreplay. So watch yourself, J. You might just be turning me on with one of your brilliant ideas. ;p

Daktari said...

"Most cognitive scientists now believe that the majority of our thoughts originate in the areas of the brain inaccessible to conscious introspection. These beginnings of thoughts arrive in consciousness already colored with inherent bias. No two people see the world alike. Each of our perceptions is filtered through our genetic predispositions, inherent biologic differences and idiosyncratic life experiences. Your red is not my red. These differences extend to the very building blocks of thoughts; each of us will look at any given question from his own predispositions. Thinking may be as idiosyncratic as fingerprints."

I was reading this article and I thought of your last post. Hope this doesn't get lost in the abyss. I think you might enjoy the reading.

J said...

"...So much so that I sometimes consider them a form of foreplay."

Heh. I wonder why "Strip Convivial Debates" isn't more common? Seems like a "brilliant idea" to me.

"So watch yourself, J. You might just be turning me on with one of your brilliant ideas. ;p"

You don't hear that every day! Or at least, I don't. =] Brings a whole different cant to "typing with one hand." ("Blogging with one hand"?)

J said...

Hmm... in re: the Salon article, the excerpt you posted isn't exactly enticing me to read it. I agree with the general idea -- but oh, dear. "Inherent biologic differences" and "genetic predispositions..." I mean, they're right, of course, but for one thing, the "inaccessible" regions of our brain, hell, cognition in general, isn't well understood, and while I strongly agree that thinking is probably as idiosyncratic as fingerprints, that doesn't necessarily mean much -- after all, fingerprints work pretty much the same despite all the idiosyncrasies, to stretch the analogy. I heard about a study recently on decision cognition, and scientists were able to predict whether rats, and I think in a follow up, humans, were going to decide to, for instance turn right or left. Each organism has a signature pattern that forms as many as 10 seconds before they consciously realize the decision, but the pattern was predictable within the same individual as to whether it would be "right" or "left." so this is an example of unconscious filtering that produces no discernible difference in outcome -- that is, they may have got there different ways, but the end result was the exact same.

I'm sure some cognition is biased unconsciously the way that clip mentions; I'm sure some is simply arrived at differently. But since the brain is much more malleable than we previously thought, and you can train your brain to do a great number of things, I think the jury's so far out on the exact *nature* of possible different biases and biologic "determinants" that it doesn't tell us much practically useful about such relatively complex and abstract things like voter decision -- other than what we already knew, that in general as a time/resource-saving device, animal brains are generally predisposed to better accept things that confirm patterns they have previously seen or postulated.

I was reading some EXCELLENT stuff about this today -- Language Log has some of the best analysis of these issues, ever.

Daktari said...

Yeah, I didn't think you were going to let that comment slide by without notice. ;p

Mary said...

"who thinks it might be nice if some mystical/spiritual elements were real, but mostly unconcerned from day to day if they are"

That's not agnostic atheism. Atheism simply means "without belief in God." Agnosticism is a philosophy that holds that there are some things which are impossible to know. It's possible to be an agnostic atheist, but what you described is not one.

J said...

Oh, come now, Mary, now you're just being argumentative.

I don't believe in gods. But, there are things that are unknowable -- we can't deduce what is outside of our existence because everything we can know is circumscribed by what we can observe within our own existence. I seriously doubt there are mystical deities beyond our ken, but in a way, it would be interesting if there were, so I'm willing to suspend my scientific materialism enough to say I don't know. This is agnostic atheism rather than atheism, in my opinion, illustrated somewhat by the quote from Richard Dawkins:

I am an agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

In this way, it fits perfectly with my "thinks it might be nice." I think it might be nice if some kind of magic ("fairies") or spiritual realm interacting with the material were real -- in that way, I *am* agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden, as I am about the existence of god. Of course, I don't believe they are there, or that any gods are around, but indeed I don't know and can't prove it.

(Of course, Dawkins' assertions about the necessity of being "agnostic" about Santa, fairies, etc. if you're internally consistent as an agnostic is somewhat spurious -- there is actually proof against such things, as there is mountainous evidence against a Christian or interventionist god. Also, fairies and Santa (i.e.) would have to be nigh-omnipotent to exist given the counterevidence and number of contortions necessary for them to be around be more or less unobservable. An omnipotent God that can change our perceptions and beings themselves is harder to disprove because it makes a different claim, so there is substantially less "evidence" and it is substantially harder to provide any against her.)

All this is not to mention that the sentence you pick out is a modifying clause; I'm clearly not describing my agnostic atheist beliefs when I say "who thinks it might be nice," but rather it's self-evidently something in addition to my previously-undescribed AAism.